The Maghreb is the equivalent term of Northwest Africa. Historically and in the narrow sense of the term, the Maghreb means the three countries linked by the Atlas Mountains (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) which also share a long history (this is also shared with neighbouring Libya and Mauritania depending on the historical era). The climate is also similar and there are many other reasons, the chief among them is the languages (Tamazight/Berber and Maghrebi Arabic or Darija are the main languages spoken here. The latter heavily influenced by Berber to the point near unintelligibly with the Arabic spoken from Egypt eastwards).
Politically, the Maghreb does not exist, or more accurately was a “stillborn project”. I won’t discuss the many reasons why this project failed (this site is obviously about birds and biodiversity not politics), but the name is worth mentioning. Our “leaders” choose a non-inclusive name (this is a euphemism, because some use stronger terms I won’t repeat here). Imagine if the European Union is named the “Roman Union”, that’s obviously not good becase it exclude other European people. Yes, the name chosen for the political union of the Maghreb is the equivalent of the “Roman Union”. For this reason, the Maghreb entry in many Wikipedia versions are not neutral, with the Arabic version the most biased one followed by the French, Spanish and Catalan versions while the English version is the most neutral one.
From a biogeographic point of view, the Maghreb can be defined by the region of Northwest Africa spanning Morocco, Algerian and Tunisia (which share more fauna and flora between them than between them and the rest of the region) plus Libya, and perhaps a small area in northern Mauritania.
– The Maghreb has one of the highest percentages of endemic plants in the Mediterranean basin.
– The Maghreb has the highest percentage of endemic reptiles in the Mediterranean basin.
– The Maghreb has a big numbers of endemic mammals, especially micro-mammals, but also some larger species as well including the only primate north of the Sahara: the Barbary Macaque (Macaca sylvanus).
– What about birds? Their ability to fly means that the region is relatively not very isolated to allow a good number of species to evolve and differentiate as in the case of reptiles, mammals and plants. There are, however, some endemic birds.
Maghreb endemic birds:
Until a few decades ago we used to have only a very small number of endemic birds, one restricted to Algeria (Algerian Nuthatch) and a few others shared between the Maghreb countries.
But given the recent advances in avian taxonomy many species were split, with the result that the former Northwest African subspecies become full species more or less restricted to this region. Here are some of these endemic species:
- Maghreb Green Woodpecker or Levaillant’s Woodpecker / Pic de Levaillant (Picus vaillantii).
- Maghreb Lark or Long-billed Lark / Cochevis à long bec (Galerida macrorhyncha).
- African Desert Warbler / Fauvette du désert (Sylvia deserti).
- Tristram’s Warbler / Fauvette de l’Atlas (Sylvia deserticola).
- Algerian Nuthatch / Sittelle kabyle (Sitta ledanti).
- Atlas Flycatcher or Atlas Pied Flycatcher / Gobemouche de l’Atlas (Ficedula speculigera).
- Moussier’s Redstart / Rougequeue de Moussier (Phoenicurus moussieri).
- Black-throated Wheatear or Seebohm’s Wheatear / Traquet de Seebohm (Oenanthe seebohmi).
- Moroccan Wagtail / Bergeronnette du Maroc (Motacilla alba subpersonata).
- African Crimson-winged Finch / Roselin à ailes roses d’Afrique (Rhodopechys alienus).
The use of ‘Maghreb’ in bird names in some languages:
The following are some species for which the common names is formed by the term Maghreb or one of its equivalents (barbary, berber, moro,…).
To my knowledge this is the richest language in terms of using the word Maghreb. van den Berg (2016) in his ‘Dutch Birding bird names’ lists 4 Dutch names that use the term Maghreb, he also lists 4 English names (3 below + Maghreb Lark which have a different Dutch name):
- Maghrebbosuil – Strix mauritanica – Maghreb Wood Owl (the split is not widely recognised yet)
- Maghrebekster – Pica mauritanica – Maghreb Magpie.
- Maghrebpimpelmees – Cyanistes ultramarinus ultramarinus – Ultramarine Tit (the split of Cyanistes teneriffae is not recognised by anyone else).
- Maghrebboomkruiper – Certhia brachydactyla mauritanica – Maghreb Short-toed Treecreeper
- Barbary Partridge (Alectoris barbara). Both names derived from Barbary Coast as Northwest Africa was known to Europeans at the time
- Maghreb Lark
Plus the names adopted by van den Berg (2016) cited above under the Dutch.
- Mésange maghrébine (Cyanistes teneriffae).
Like the Dutch language, the Spanish also have a few bird names featuring the region’s name in one form or the other.
In the following Spanish names, the term ‘moro’ is derived from the ‘Moors’ which in our context means ‘Moroccan’. Bereber and berberisco is just Spanish for Berber.
- Busardo moro (Buteo rufinus). This is the Spanish name for the species not just the Atlas Long-Legged Buzzard.
- Búho moro (Asio capensis). This is the species name not just the Moroccan subspecies (A. c. tingitanus).
- Vencejo moro (Apus affinis)
- Pito real bereber (Picus vaillantii)
- Zarcero bereber (Iduna opaca)
The names above are well established and officially used in the Spanish list I consulted (Gutiérrez et al 2012), the exception being the Levaillant’s Woodpecker which is not in the list.
- Búho berberisco (Bubo ascalaphus): although this name is still used by some Spanish birders, it’s the least established among other alternative names such as Búho del desierto or Búho del Sahara.
Do you know any other names from any language, please helm me complete this.
Bergier, P. & Thévenot, M. 2010. Liste des oiseaux du Maroc. Mise à jour février 2010 (rév. 3.0). Go-South Bull. 7: 15-55.
Gill, F & Donsker, D (Eds) 2011. IOC World Bird Names (version 2.10). Available at: http://www.worldbirdnames.org [Accessed on: 17 January 2011].
Gutiérrez, R., de Juana, E. & Lorenzo, J.A., 2012. Lista de las aves de España. Edición de 2012. Versión online 1.0. SEO/BirdLife
van den Berg, A. B. 2016. Dutch Birding bird names. Dutch Birding-vogelnamen. 15 January 2016. PDF
The page updated in 2017 (the Dutch names and added the Spanish names).